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A scientific explanation to why people perform better after receiving a compliment

A team of Japanese scientists have found scientific proof that people doing exercises appear to perform better when another person compliments them. The research was carried out by a group lead by National Institute for Physiological Sciences Professor Norihiro Sadato, Graduate University for Advanced Studies graduate student Sho Sugawara, Nagoya Institute of Technology Tenure-Track Associate Professor Satoshi Tanaka, and in collaboration with Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology Associate Professor Katsumi Watanabe. The team had previously discovered that the same area of the brain, the striatum, is activated when a person is rewarded a compliment or cash. Their latest research could suggest that when the striatum is activated, it seems to encourage the person to perform better during exercises. The paper is published online in PLOS ONE (November 7, 2012, edition).

Forty-eight adults recruited for the study were asked to learn and perform a specific finger pattern (pushing keys on a keyboard in a particular sequence as fast as possible in 30 seconds). Once participants had learned the finger exercise, they were separated into three groups. One group included an evaluator who would compliment participants individually, another group involved individuals who would watch another participant receive a compliment, and the third group involved individuals who evaluated their own performance on a graph. When the participants were asked to repeat the finger exercise the next day, the group of participants who received direct compliments from an evaluator performed better than participants from the other groups. It indicates that receiving a compliment after exercising stimulates the individual to perform better afterwards.

According to Professor Sadato, "To the brain, receiving a compliment is as much a social reward as being rewarded money. We've been able to find scientific proof that a person performs better when they receive a social reward after completing an exercise. There seems to be scientific validity behind the message 'praise to encourage improvement'. Complimenting someone could become an easy and effective strategy to use in the classroom and during rehabilitation."

This research was funded by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's Sciences Research Grant (KAKENHI).


Contact: Norihiro Sadato
National Institute for Physiological Sciences

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